Finding the best wheelchair for you can be overwhelming. But, making the right choice can improve your mobility and overall life quality. To find the perfect fit, you have to think about the usage and activities you will be carrying out and the areas you’ll be using it in. Our comprehensive wheelchair guide will describe the types of wheelchairs available and provide you with the knowledge to find the perfect wheelchair.
Whether it’s your first mobility device or you have purchased them before, comfort and functionality are the first things you have to consider. You also have to think about your height, weight, and body shape to find the right alternative for you.
Not only this, to find the best wheelchair, you should think about your specific needs. There are many differences between people who use mobility devices, and they can vary in age, gender, body type, diagnosis, activities, and places where they will be using it.
In this article, we will go over the types of wheelchairs available, their particular characteristics, and explain the features you have available to you. Note that this should not replace professional advice, but inform you of everything you need to know before making a purchase.
Many first-time users are under the impression that all wheelchairs look similar, so they must be the same. However, there are many different types that serve numerous purposes, and many of them have unique characteristics that set them apart from each other.
Generally speaking, wheelchairs are chairs fitted with wheels, and come in many variations that allow users to turn the wheels and control the chair either by hand or through a motor.
They often come equipped with handles on the back, so different individuals such as carers, family members or friends can push them as well.
People use mobility equipment for multiple reasons. Finding the perfect match can make a huge difference to how it fits, how it responds, how users feel, and what these devices enable them to do.
Because they can bring different features and use specialized designs, wheelchairs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. There are also specific models that are designed for indoor usage, outdoor and camping, as well as sports.
Depending on your needs, they can come with other capabilities, such as foldable and self-propelled models. Because of this, these mobility devices can feature a huge array of parts, materials, and accessories you can choose from.
There are thousands of different wheelchair designs, but they all follow a basic model that consists of a seat equipped with a minimum of two wheels, more commonly four.
The types of wheelchairs can be divided into manual and electric models, and come in a huge array of sizes and shapes that fit all body types.
Although there are different variations, most wheelchairs come equipped with brakes, footrests, caster wheels, armrests, a backseat, and push handles. These mobility devices also come equipped with a frame that can be made of materials such as metal, PVC, and carbon fiber.
There are also additional parts, specific adjustments, and accessories that can be added to increase functionality or add storage space. Moreover, electric chairs also have to consider battery life, travel distance, storage options, and drive control features.
Lastly, you should not only consider the needs of the person using a wheelchair, but also the people around them.
People who use wheelchairs may often see medical professionals or live with family members who may also interact with the mobility device, so you should also keep their needs in mind too.
There are many types of wheelchairs that are designed for all purposes, but as a whole, these can be divided into manual and electric models. As the name indicates, manual models are designed to be propelled by the seated person.
Despite the fact that they are often sold by the same retailers, it’s worth mentioning that mobility scooters and wheelchairs are completely different devices. Wheelchairs tend to be smaller, and although they can also be self-propelled, they allow more mobility and accessibility to buildings.
Manual wheelchairs are the most common type and they can come with numerous features that enable users to improve mobility while indoors, outdoors, or while playing sports. They can often be folded horizontally and they usually come equipped with handles on the back.
Manual or attendant-propelled mobility devices are ideal for people who require a wheelchair all, or most of the time. Although they can be pushed by others, ideally speaking, you should have enough strength to push a manual model without any help.
As a rule of thumb, attendant-propelled wheelchairs have larger rear wheels, as well as caster wheels in front, allowing for maximum mobility and maneuverability.
Due to their large size, some models come equipped with quick-release wheels that can be removed and placed back for easy folding and transporting.
Also known as power wheelchairs, electric models are great ideas if you don’t have the strength or stamina to move a self-propelled chair. With an electric model, you don’t have to depend on another person to push your chair.
These models also allow users to take longer journeys without having to worry about getting exhausted because they feature a battery and motor that propels them. They can come in indoor and outdoor models, as well as hybrids that can be used in both environments.
Also known as portable electric wheelchairs, indoor models are designed to be used in homes or any other area with a smooth surface, including decks, courtyards, and patios. Most of these chairs can be folded in order to fit into a car for easy transportation.
As you can imagine, outdoor models come equipped with rugged wheels and feature a sturdier design that is perfect for uneven terrain. They also come equipped with suspension, but they offer a big frame that may not be ideal for indoor settings.
Indoor and outdoor electric wheelchairs are designed to offer the best of both worlds. Although they are not as light as indoor versions or as sturdy as outdoor models, they are a great alternative that can be used in both settings without any problems whatsoever.
When compared to their manual counterparts, electric models tend to be heavier because they come equipped with a battery and motors that allow you to control and move your chair.
Despite the fact that there are thousands of models to choose from, all wheelchairs have a set of features and specifications in common. Moreover, certain models, such as electric ones, offer additional capacities you should think about before selecting the best one for you.
The first thing you should keep in mind is the size and weight of the wheelchair. Mobility devices come in a huge array of shapes and sizes, and they can be designed for children, adults, and elderly users as well.
The weight and size of a chair are extremely important for mobility. Lighter, less bulky chairs are often easier to maneuver, but don’t always last as long as bigger models. On the other hand, larger models that feature bigger frames tend to offer limited mobility when compared to others.
You also have to consider where the wheelchair will be used and if you will have to transport it on a regular basis.
In these cases, you need to select a model that will fit in your vehicle. Foldable designs offer a great alternative because they allow maximum portability in these cases.
Different wheelchair models have different weight and size capacities, so make sure you look at the limitations before you choose the best one for you. Basic manual models usually have a weight limit of 250 to 350 pounds, whereas heavy-duty models can support up to 450 pounds.
The reason why weight capacity is so important is that it guarantees that the chair will perform as intended. Users who are too heavy for a particular wheelchair may have accidents and suffer injuries, whereas users who are too light may have difficulty with mobility.
Keep in mind that not following the weight limitations can void your wheelchair’s warranty, so make sure that you select the right range and follow the safety instructions to the tee.
Just like wheelchair models, there are many types of wheels that come in many sizes, materials, and purposes. They can be made of various metals, plastics, or carbon fiber and feature a tire that can be either pneumatic or solid rubber.
As we mentioned before, some wheels come with quick release features. This allows you to remove and mount the wheel with the press of a button, which means they can easily be taken off in order to be placed inside of a vehicle.
Wheelchairs also come equipped with caster wheels in front, which swivel around to allow easy mobility. Some models can even feature anti-tilt wheels, which are smaller and are designed to prevent the chairs from tilting backward.
Electric wheelchairs come equipped with many engines and motors that help power and move different parts. This includes the chair itself as well as any control pads, setting screens, and handles that are used during operation.
Before you think about how powerful you want your wheelchair to be, consider the activities you will be doing and where you will be using it. If you are only interested in using your mobility device indoors, you can select an engine that is not very powerful.
However, if you plan to use your electric wheelchair on regular basis, you might want to make sure it has a powerful engine suitable for an active lifestyle. Moreover, you can look at the types and technologies that are constantly evolving to choose the right one for you.
Your engine will have a direct impact on the speed-up rate of your wheelchair, but it will not be the only factor you have to consider. Wheels are extremely important when it comes to acceleration and control, so you have to keep an eye out for the right set of rubbers too.
That being said, the maximum speed of the device is specified and defined by manufacturers, so remember you have to be very careful when operating them. That being said, having a fast wheelchair can save you a lot of time if you regularly cover long distances.
Electric-powered devices have experienced unprecedented growth in the last few decades, so you can now choose from a huge array of options. Batteries can employ different technologies that make them more energy efficient and reliable than ever before.
Most electric wheelchairs are equipped with a battery that needs to be charged. If you get around town a lot or simply go around your house many times a day, you will want to purchase a model that has a long battery life.
Battery life varies tremendously depending on the brand and model you select. However, most power wheelchairs will last anywhere between 10 and 25 miles before needing a charge. Also keep in mind other factors that can influence battery life, such as the weight of the user.
As we previously mentioned, there are several external factors that will affect the travel distance of your wheelchair. Although battery life is the most important element, you also have to consider the age of the batteries, weight of the user, and the terrain on which it will be used.
Keep in mind that uneven, rugged terrains often require a lot more energy, which translates into less distance. At the same time, lighter users or newer batteries tend to result in better energy efficiency, resulting in more travel distance.
Always keep in mind your daily requirements before committing to a wheelchair. If you need to cover long distances on regular basis, your best shot is to choose a powerful motor that has long travel distance, even if it turns out to be a bit more expensive than other models.
Besides your standard features, both electric and manual wheelchairs can offer an array of add-ons in the form of extras and accessories. Some manufacturers even offer customized services that are designed to create the perfect fit for each individual.
Some add-ons, extra features, and accessories your wheelchair can bring include:
- Weatherproofing Additions - These are different covering items that are designed to shield users and wheelchairs from harsh weather conditions such as rain, snow, or wind. Some accessories also include leg warmers and waterproof covers.
- Storage bags - There are many models that already come equipped with storage, however, you can purchase additional bags and create more storage space on the sides, underneath, or even on the backrest.
- Armrests - Although most already come with padded armrests, you can increase comfort by purchasing padded covers. These also come in different colors and patterns that add to the visual appeal of your chair.
- Headrests - Many electric and manual models come with a headrest option that allows you to purchase this accessory and install it separately. These can be designed for comfort or to fulfill a specific ergonomic task.
- Backrests - Most wheelchairs come with static backrests, although specialized models can be tilted and adjusted. You can increase comfort and durability by adding a backrest that helps your posture and protects your chair.
- Footplates - Footplates may be critical to the comfort of your wheelchair. These can come in flat or padded designs, which you can change or cover in order to create a better experience for the user.
- Seating - Some models come with padded seating whereas other provide a harder sitting surface. You can always add a cushion or other accessory to correct posture, relieve pressure, and increase comfort.
There are dozens, if not hundreds of different wheelchair manufacturers to choose from, so finding a reputable manufacturer is not always straightforward. Like all consumer goods, choosing the right model depends on finding a reliable option that is also cost-effective.
Choosing the right wheelchair manufacturer is not about finding the branding you like the most. By finding a reliable provider, you will guarantee that your chair will be top quality. Not only this, but you can also check for reviews and make sure the brand is trustworthy.
Remember that wheelchairs can be made from various materials by different manufacturers and have particular traits. For instance, although metal models are more sturdy than PVC designs, they are not MRI-friendly, so you really have to keep your needs in mind.
One of the worldwide leading brands in medical equipment manufacturing, Invacare has made a name for itself by consistently delivering quality products that have the end user in mind. The company manufactures and distributes a large array of mobility products, including wheelchairs.
Because the company has been operating for more than 100 years, Invacare has all the resources necessary to design cutting-edge products that promote recovery and active lifestyles.
The company is one of the major players in the industry, so it’s no surprise that it’s designated as one of the standard setters in the mobility and healthcare equipment industry. This, and its ability to produce great products, make Invacare a global provider that is trusted worldwide.
Although it has not been running for as long as some of the other brands on this list, Drive Medical has been successfully manufacturing durable wheelchairs and other mobility devices for more than 16 years.
The company is known for providing comfortable wheelchairs that are light, durable, and easy to transport. This makes them perfect for users who have limited mobility but still enjoy living active lifestyles that require a chair that is easy to move.
Since the company was established, Drive Medical has aimed to increase its customers’ life quality and encourage them to live active lifestyles. Driven by consumer satisfaction and continuous growth, Drive Medical provides state-of-the-art devices and great customer support.
Wheelchair88 is another well-known wheelchair manufacturer that provides different models in both manual and self-propelled formats. The company is known for providing versatile products that don’t sacrifice functionality for appearance.
Moreover, because it has fully-equipped design and testing facilities, Wheelchair88 is considered one of the prime manufacturers of mobility devices that range from scooters to beds, walkers, and standing wheelchairs.
Besides getting praised for its innovative design, the company’s wheelchairs are also known for being some of the most aesthetically appealing in the market, while Wheelchair88 also tends to use lightweight materials in many of its designs.
Medline has been specializing in providing high-quality healthcare and mobility products at affordable prices. The company has a huge range of models and designs, so it’s no surprise that it has one of the largest manufacturing facilities in the world.
Founded in 1910, Medline operates under the mantra of constant change and evolution, which has allowed it to develop some of the most functional and innovative features you can find in wheelchairs and many other healthcare products today.
Not only this, but because the company has a commitment to quality, you can expect Medline wheelchairs and all its products to be sturdy, durable, and reliable.
As we mentioned before, wheelchairs bring a huge number of parts and components that range in size and purpose. Not only this, but these mobility devices tend to be a big investment, so you should always keep your chair clean in order to get the most out of it.
The amount of maintenance you need to give to your wheelchair will depend on the model you choose. Always review the user’s manual and all other important documents that come with your model to make sure you are maintaining it properly.
Some chairs require you oil them regularly, and you always make sure your tires are well-inflated if you have pneumatic wheels. You should also consider wiping down your wheelchair regularly to avoid any germ or debris accumulation.
Lastly, keep an eye out for all padding and soft elements on your wheelchair. If you see signs of wear and tear you may have to replace the part. If this is the case, you can always get in touch with the manufacturer to get a replacement or ask them for the best course of action.
Wheelchairs are amazing devices that enable their users to enjoy life to its fullest. If you are still not sure how to choose the best model for you, you can always check out our dedicated buyer’s guide for the best advice on how to find the perfect wheelchair for your specific case from the many types of wheelchairs available.